CommuniCare, a student team from Tartu, relieves the loneliness of the elderly
CommuniCare. A team comprised of freshman of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Tartu is involved in the Brain Hunt Development Program to create a network of volunteers to provide companions and communication partners for elderly people living in nursing homes. Although the idea was born in England and the solution is being tested in Estonia, the team aims to expand rapidly into the Scandinavian and North American markets.
The idea was born when the team leader Norman Vester spent time in England talking to elderly people in nursing homes and spending time with them. “While communicating with them and spending time with them, I discovered that no one was visiting them. Even the loved ones make it there only at Christmas and rarely on birthdays. More than half of those who were there have no loved ones,” he says of a growing problem in society.
In Estonia, the problem is even bigger, he says. A survey conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs in 2013 shows, for example, that 85% of elderly people in nursing homes are visited on average 2.3 times a year.
To alleviate the problem, Norman began working with his university group mates in September this year. Originally a tiny idea, he says, actually came from a push received from the university, where joining the Starter program helped him to avoid a test. “I went there with my problem and idea and fell in love with it,” he says.
CommuniCare creates a network of volunteers who are sent to nursing homes to spend time with the elderly. Nursing homes pay a fixed amount per month for CommuniCare service for each elderly person living there. The money earned from the service will cover the costs of volunteer recruitment and motivation events.
According to Norman, there are a total of 64 active nursing homes in Estonia, with eight of which the CommuniCare team has already communicated with and cooperation with three has already begun. By the end of the summer, the team’s goal is to start working with all nursing homes in Tartu, one in Pärnu and one in Harju County. So far, he says, the feedback from nursing homes has been positive.
The biggest challenge for Norman is the recruitment of volunteers to take to the nursing homes. “This is the most important place we are currently putting our resources,” he adds. Their poor reputation is a major obstacle to finding good volunteers, he said. To date, CommuniCare has 50 volunteers. The next major recruitment event will be in Tartu.
In order to motivate volunteers, CommuniCare is also launching its own scholarship program, whereby they provide one volunteer each year with a scholarship of EUR 500-1000 for sporting or educational activities. “The more a volunteer is involved, the more likely he or she is to get that money,” Norman explains.
Learning from competitors
Regarding the question of whether such solutions and services do not already exist in Estonia or in the world, Norman replies that they do, but their focus is too broad. “Before we came out with our program, we wrote to and phoned all the competitors. We asked what went badly and what when well for them, to learn from their mistakes,” says Norman about the extensive groundwork.
CommuniCare came to Brain Hunt through a mentoring event in Tartu in the autumn, where during the final round of the quick-dating format event, they had to choose between going to the table of an investor or Brain Hunt team leader Harri Tallinn. Because the team’s goal is to find good mentors, they decided to go to the Brain Hunt table.
At Brain Hunt, the team is primarily looking for good mentors to help make the business model and processes more efficient.